When I say the words: “I am a Feminist” I get a reaction one would expect had I passionately made an allegiance to Al Qaeda. I’m often met with the disgruntled look of: “Oh, you must hate men!” But I love the look on their faces when I confidently say that I was brought up by a man who instilled those ideas in me.
My dad’s story started off in Tanzania, East Africa (yes, he’s an Indian born in Africa they do exist) and during the course of his life ended up in London, UK with his family, three kids and an ex-wife. He’s of a generation that’s in the odd limbo between backward thinking and being progressive: so with regards to things like Feminism, it really can go in any direction.
Indian fathers aren’t given the best press; the main stereotype is a man who is super strict, deeply religious, narrow minded and wields a machine gun if anyone even looks at his daughter. If someone saw my dad, they’d probably put him into that category; until he starts to speak. Stereotyping is dangerous, regardless of who it’s aimed at. So if it’s dangerous, why do we do it? I suppose it’s human nature to put people into little boxes so that we eliminate the fear of the unknown and stay well within our respective comfort zones.
My dad is, what I like to call, an “accidental Feminist” – he firmly believes that everyone should be educated to the max, be allowed to express themselves, have their own mind and be respected for it. He just didn’t realise that this is what Feminism is about: equality. From a young age, my dad has always told me that success is not exclusive to a certain group of people: everyone is entitled to a slice of success pie. I was encouraged to read widely, write my heart out, be open minded and tolerant to everything that life offers us. As I grew older, I began to realise that there are pockets of people who have decided to restrict who achieves success. Whilst it disheartened me, my dad encouraged me to keep going and not pay attention to what people said. A conversation, which I will never forget, went a little like this:
“We live in a world where things are unequal, whether it’s gender, race, sexuality etc. This inequality is caused by a group of individuals who are power mad control freaks; their lust for power makes them paranoid. They don’t want to change, because they think that they’ll lose their grip on people. Society is hard on women; you bear the burden of continuing civilisation. So surely, if you damage or destroy women, you are damaging the very world you live in. It’s a sad truth, but til this very day, if you’re not white you automatically have to work harder to get somewhere. So being a non white woman can be seen as a double blow – but it’s not. You have so much to offer this world, but be prepared for what you’re going to face on the way. The world isn’t normally kind to newcomers and people who want to change things. When I say ‘you can change the world’ it’s your world you can change. It’s the people who come into contact with you, work with you and those you can help: they are a part of your world. Start small, be kind and end big.”
It’s something I will carry with me and wanted to share with my readers because it’s so poignant and hard hitting. I come from a heritage where, in my religion, women are elevated, celebrated and admired. They are strong women who are beautiful, wise and are equal to their male counterparts. Yet the culture of my motherland seeks to dismantle and destroy them. I say that I am a Feminist, but inequalities still exist in Feminism. A big example, which is personal to me, is how Feminism can be applied to non-white women and successfully incorporate them into a movement for equality. Feminism has to pay attention to the voices of non-white women because we are part of the fabric Feminism seeks to protect.
So how do we go about doing this? Having a voice doesn’t necessarily mean going to Speakers’ Corner in London and screaming through a megaphone. Writing, artwork, blogging, music, dance, volunteering and joining various projects all count as having a voice. With the Internet and social media now in place, there’s no better way to get your message out there. Who knows: you might inspire others along the way. After all, actions always speak louder than words.